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A better plan in Afghanistan

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, November 8, 2014 9:00 p.m

The mission is far from accomplished in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. But U.S. and British commanders felt enough confidence in Afghan government forces’ combat abilities to withdraw all troops there last month and shut down the Camp Bastion and Leatherneck coalition military bases.

British troops are leaving Afghanistan altogether, while around 24,000 U.S. troops will remain, scattered among four major bases and several smaller outposts. By January, about half that number of troops will be left. They must be especially watchful for signs that Afghan troops are faltering in the field.

The Taliban’s resilience in recent years — particularly in Helmand — has been impressive. And the embarrassing sweep of U.S.-trained Iraq forces by ISIS jihadists this year is a stark reminder of the dangers of leaving too quickly. Once American ground forces have left a country, coming to the rescue in an emergency becomes much harder.

The politically expedient choice is to reduce vulnerabilities and get U.S. forces out of harm’s way. But, given Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s dismal track records, the morally responsible choice is to make sure a proper support system remains in place, which includes plenty of U.S. rapid-reaction ground troops.

The enemy is willing to die in the name of God and has an enormous capacity to regenerate its forces. There seems to be no equal zeal among coalition-trained local forces. Do they know what they’re fighting for?

The same might be asked of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who seem to be following orders more than embracing a mission. “We are doing exactly what our commander in chief has asked us to do,” Marine Capt. James M. Geiger Jr. told The Washington Post.

The original goal was to free Afghanistan from Taliban tyranny. The Taliban oppressed women, imposed one of the planet’s harshest forms of Islamic law and hosted the al-Qaida planners of the 9/11 attacks. Today, U.S. military planners seem content merely to hold the Taliban at bay, perhaps until a viable Plan B surfaces.

The real mission hasn’t changed, only the resolve to accomplish it. The Taliban’s record speaks for itself: Public hangings for blasphemy. Beatings for playing music. Imprisonment or death for women who “submit” to rape. Likewise, ISIS’ record is clear: Beheadings for refusing to embrace the jihadists’ warped interpretation of Islam. Beheadings for being a Westerner.

The debacle of Iraq must not be repeated by leaving Afghan government forces to their own devices. No one wishes upon U.S. military families the kind of suffering thousands have endured over the past 13 years of war. But we will all regret that suffering far more if U.S. forces withdraw in haste, only to watch helplessly as radical jihadists bomb and behead their way back into tyrannical power.

— from The Dallas Morning News

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